Friday, April 15, 2016

Turning Fear into Curiosity: Warwick McLean, Ypäjä

Still a little scary. In the picture Warwick McLean, Ypäjä Hemmo and Saana Vepsäläinen.

We had a fantastic day at Ypäjä last Saturday during Warwick McLean's clinic. I have been a fan of the McLean's for years and have been following the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre updates and newsletters with keen interest. One of the biggest post order I have ever received are these books and they have held the premium place on my bedside table ever since (some keep bibles, other horsey bibles).

There were many interesting thoughts and learnings that Warwick McLean shared with us during the four hour demonstration. Here are a few that I picked up.

Already showing some interest.

When dealing with horses it is important to know as much as possible about horse behaviour, their physics and biomechanics. One important thing to note is that horses have a photographic memory remembering images and the movement that is given when the image is presented to him. People again have a videographic memory and can remember what place they have been to and e.g. the arena that they are in.

Now he thinks that he is in charge of the umbrella and starts to sniff on it.
Sniffing speeds up the habituation of new objects. 

During the clinic the riders were riding approximately 20 minutes to half an hour. With all horses Warwick McLean pointed out how important it is to have a relaxed and content horse. With Siiri Kyrö, Anna Kärkkäinen and Susanna Hyypiä he made them ride the edges especially well. He said that one of the most important things is to teach the horse to travel comfortably around the edge of the arena even slowing down or coming down from a trot to a walk in order to ride deep into every corner.

He pointed out that when you go to competitions or for a training session away from home it should make no difference for the horse. The horse should be as relaxed and ridden in the same manner as at home. 


He also talked about the importance of transitions and told the riders to ride transitions whenever it feels that the horse is taking over. He wanted the riders to train the horses to be cautious and come back to them rather than running away. "When feeling pressure in the mouth the horse should not accelerate and run through the bit. Then again a horse should not be too light either in the front. The difficulty of dressage", McLean stated.

Gaining control of the legs gains control of the horses mind. First let the horse walk a little bit faster through the water but then slow them down and make sure that you have control over the speed and the legs, therefore controlling the mind. (See Ville Vaurio slowing down Laram after the plastic. Getting over the plastic didn't look this easy the first times.) 

"Going forward with a young horse is fine but you should have an element of steering," said Mc Lean.

Dressage rider Ville Vaurio did some jumping work with Laram.

During the clinic all riders and horses were acquainted with new and sometimes scary situations. When the horses got used to the arena umbrellas were brought in. After the umbrellas the horses were ridden outside the dressage arena and in through a few bales of hay. First the bales were without nothing on but in the end McLean and Hockus were standing on them with an umbrella in their hands. 

To the older horses rubber mats were introduced and after showing the horses the mats they rode over them. 

"Even if a similar situation would never occur at a dressage competition it is important that horses are conditioned to different things (very much what classical dressage also refers to).We take it to the extreme so that when you go to a show it will all be easy," McLean concluded. 

Riding through the bales.

When McLean introduced new things to horses he said that we should give the horse time and not push him. He talked about turning fear into curiosity and that the process of turning the fear around takes around 10-15 minutes.

Getting used to the judges table and letting the horse's sniff on them.

McLean told the riders to teach the horse to go up to things and sniff at them. Sniffing at scary objects speeds up the process of habituating the horse to new things. It is however important that the horse would sniff at the things without jumping backward and getting afraid of the new elements. McLean told the riders to firstly take the horse around the new elements and secondly toward the new thing. He also said that we need to habituate the horse on both eyes because sometimes the horse is relaxed with a new object but spooks because it is a different/new eye. Research has however shown that once one eye is trained the other side learns faster.

When training horses it is important to train both the visual and the sound often starting with the visual and then the sound.

Anna Kärkkäinen and Elves Angel standing still when people are clapping. This was no problem for Elves Angel.

McLean was talking about the fact that we want more and more reactive horses that we work with. With the good always comes something bad and with energy and reactivity comes repercussions. In the wild one of the most important instincts of the horse is a good flight response and the flight response in the horse brain is stronger than the part that receives our aids. McLean pointed out that we need to make the horse listen to the riders aids more than the outside environment. We can control the horse by turning and directing the shoulders and if we can turn the shoulders we are able to prevent smaller mistakes from happening, not turning them into bigger problems.  

When approaching things and the horse turns left, you should turn the shoulders right so the horse doesnt' go against the aids. Also concentrate on bringing the outside shoulder toward the umbrella. 

It's all good for Anna Kärkkäinen and Elves Angel.
In order to control the shoulders McLean said that when the horse thinks that all you want to do is hold him against the fence you should rather turn him away from the fence and then ride him back to the fence and away again like a small spiral. "Teach the horse to focus on your aids." he said.

Siiri Kyrö riding the fantastic stallion Kyrö San Allegro. My absolute favourite of the clinic.
Amazing horse and beautiful temper.

There are of course differences in horse behaviour, temperament and the way they have been trained. A very reactive horse needs more training. More things to concentrate on, such as umbrellas, plastic bags and bails of hay. As McLean so nicely put it: "It is a matter of being creative."

Susanna Hyypiä with Kyrö Hot Trick. In the back the oh so lovely Siiri Kyrö and Kyrö San Allegro.

During the clinic McLean pointed out that we should just try to be relaxed whatever happens and always stay calm. The more a horse reacts, the less we should pull with the reins. "The more contact we take, the more the horse says that uh, this is something scary....."

Studies show that if the rider doesn't know that there is an umbrella around the next corner the horse heart rate is lower. If the human knows about the umbrella the heart rate goes up on the horse showing how much we affect our horses by the way we behave, feel and react.

Thumbs up for Susanna Hyypiä coming into the arena with a very reactive and spooky youngster, Kyrö Hot Trick. McLean has had the horse in training and it was lovely to see that even if the horse was really unaware of any aids for the first few minutes with the help from McLean and just taking it in the really slow and easy, the horse relaxed quickly and was as good a ride as all the others.

Lovely, talented Ida-Lotte Peltoniemi getting acquainted to the umbrella with Furia.


Both my trainers Ville Vaurio and Melinda Ignatius were training to get their horses used to the plastic on the ground. Mc Lean first made them go over the plastic a few times and then broadened the plastic when the horses relaxed and slowed down. Kainulainen's horse Laram, ridden by Vaurio, did some mighty jumps over the plastic. Melinda's lovely gelding Royal Riccione was again overly qute wondering where to put his long legs.

McLean pointed out that the plastic should be hard enough to that horses don't get stuck with the hocks in the wintertime. Since the horse is a herd animal he also said that it is good to have someone helping from the ground and showing the horse that it is ok to go over the plastic (being careful not to get jumped over). He also said with a little laughter that with jumpers we don't want to teach them to jump into the water when jumping over fences with water below.

Ville Vaurio and Laram, Melinda Ignaitus and Richie.

Melinda and Richie all dressed up in Equestrian Stockholm.

Marit Nurmik also had a very nice horse that had a bit of a hard time finding a stable position. McLean asked Marit to ride a small circle and soften the horse through the inside ribcage. He asked for not too much trot, but a very supple trot telling Marit to "let the horse ride every part of her body."

The last riders of the evening were Stella Hagelstam and Mia Kainulainen. Hagelstam's horse was absolutely gorgeous and had some pretty fancy moves. Hagelstam is such a positive rider and you can really see that the horse and rider have a good cooperation. 

What McLean did also point out is that sometimes when horses learn to collect we need to teach them to trot more normal if they are in a situation that makes them nervous. Sometimes the horses stay to collected and the more movement they have the easier it is to make a mistake. 

I was so happy to see Kainulainen with her new horse. The horse was brought recently from the McLean's and you could really see the happiness in Mia's eyes when riding around the arena (just look at the picture below). Mia's riding looked very nice and having such a great school master must be a real bliss. 

The day as a whole was really nice. I had some great company and met many friends and acquintances. We saw some amazing horses and nice riding and I am so happy that a more ethological educational aspect is being seen and heard all over the world. 

When I spoke to Andrew McLean's wife and her sister they said that they have been thinking about doing this for years because of the horses. And that just made my day. #forthegoodofthehorse

Really fun company. 

Also read: 
"Jos hevosta oikeasti pelottaa se ei opi"4YourHorse, AndrewMcLean 10 2015


  1. Niin kauniita ratsukoita ja tuo Ypäjä Hemmo, hieno! <3

    1. Eikö olekin. Musta toi Hemmo on kanssa aivan fantastinen tapaus.:)

  2. Kiitos, kiitos, kiitos Kia!

    Mahtavia kuvia ja videoklippejä, hyvin kirjoitettu teksti. Melkein kuin olisi saanut olla itse paikalla!

    Maarit L. :-)

    1. Kiitos Maarit L. Kiva kuulla, että pidit tekstistä. Sen koostamiseen ja kirjoittamiseen meni todella paljon aikaa joten kiva jos joku muu kuin minä saa siitä jotain irti.:)